Anglo-Jewry in 1851: the Great Exhibition and political emancipation*

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Early in January 1850 Queen Victoria appointed the Commissioners charged with organizing the Great Exhibition of the Works of the Industry of All Nations. She also named the treasurers responsible for maintaining and mon- itoring the Exhibition's finances. These five prominent men of business included a banker, a railway entrepreneur and the financier Baron Lionel de Rothschild.1 Reporting enthusiastically on Rothschild's appointment, the Jewish Chronicle commented: "Will the Lords again reject the man whom the Queen thus delighteth to honour?"2 The phrasing is, of course, taken from the Book of Esther but the contemporary context refers to the refusal by the House of Lords on two previous occasions to allow Rothschild to take his seat in the House of Commons as he was not prepared to swear the Oath of Abjuration which contained the unacceptable phrase "on the true faith of a Christian".3 Although the admission of Jews into Parliament had been pro- posed on several occasions over the previous two decades, the situation became more acute following the vote by the citizens of the City of London to send Rothschild to Parliament in 1847. In order to enable Rothschild to take his seat, a Jewish Disabilities Bill was soon introduced. Despite gaining a second reading in the Commons by a significant majority, it foundered in the Lords. Another attempt was made in 1849 to introduce a similar bill but again this was thwarted by the House of Lords. Hence the Jewish Chronicled question: "Will the Lords again reject the man whom the Queen thus

1 London Gazette , 4 January 1850, 23-24.

2 Jewish Chronicle (hereafter JC), 11 Jan. 1850, hi.

ó I he principal historical accounts of the admission or Jews to Parliament are David t eldman, Englishmen and Jews: Social Relations and Political Culture , 1840-1Ç14 (New Haven, 1994); Abraham Gilam, The Emancipation of the Jews in England , 1830-1860 (New York, 1982); M. C. N. Salbstein, The Emancipation of the Jews in Britain : The Question of the Admission of the Jews to Parliament 1828-1860 (London and Toronto, 1982).

delighteth to honour?" - Rothschild had been honoured by his appointment as one of the treasurers of the Exhibition but snubbed by the Upper House.

Th z Jewish Chroniclers comment about Rothschild provides one specific connection between the Great Exhibition and the issue of Jewish political dis- abilities. However, the principal aim of this paper is to demonstrate how con- temporary themes of Anglo-Jewish history, especially the arguments over political emancipation, intersect with attitudes to the Exhibition. The main argument of the paper will lead to the debate in Parliament over the admis- sion of Jews but by an unusual route. Unlike most historians who have pre- viously written on Jewish emancipation, I want to move the spotlight away from Parliament and the usual cast of actors - principally politicians and leaders of the Jewish community - and instead portray both the Exhibition and Jewish emancipation on a larger canvas in order to show that there were many issues common to both

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